12 Building a print circulations audit system

12.9. Definitions

The cornerstone of an audit system rests on its definitions of terms. It is essential to define each and every aspect that will be audited, related to the audit, and/or published. There are several types of terms to be defined: description of a publication, its identifying factors, circulation terms, etc.

Neither the space, nor the scope of this handbook allows me to discuss each and every term in rudimentary form or full detail. More importantly, it is up to each and every ABC to create its own set of terms based on the actual market situation.

Here is a list of terms that are used to identify a given publication, its issue and various forms:

• What is a publication?
• What are its geographical and content particulars?
• What is the issue of a publication? Its content and other features, which make a series of printed copes unique, with each and every copy of the issue being identical?
• Frequency of publication: there is a need for clear and unambiguous definition of the different frequency of issues (how many issues determine a daily, weekly, monthly, etc. publication).
• Identifying variable for a single issue: the information upon which a specific issue of the publication can be uniquely identified. These variables can be: content, serial (issue number, cover price (subscripton rates), International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), etc.
• Distribution cycle: the time period in which actual distribution of a given issue of a publication occurred. This is strongly related to the frequency of issue.

Here is a list of the different circulation terms to be defined:

• Print run: the number of copies printed and/or which enter the distribution system/channels. The different cases of printing (by subcontractors or in own printing house) should be taken into consideration.
• Paid copies: in general the definition of the paid copy is the amount of money the final buyer/reader is paying for the full price of a copy of a publication. There is a need to fix a basic, or reference price, to which the auditors will compare the payments made by buyers (or publisher’s income), in order to identify which copies were paid (according to the definition), and which were not.
• Different paid distribution types via subscriptions, single copy sales, bulk sales, etc.
• Returns: the number of copies delivered for newsstand sales that were not sold at the end of the distribution cycle.
• Back sales, or sales on arrears.
• Free distribution: copies distributed at request, promotional, etc.

Here is a (yet not exhaustive) list of other terms, beyond the strict circulation terms that have to be defined:

• Audit period (the time period a single audit can cover).
• Continuity of the audits: should each audit provide a continuous timeline of data, or can these be interrupted (reporting data spontaneously)?
• Exclusion rules: types of circulation that will be excluded from reporting (although these will be audited).

It is important to keep in mind that these definitions must:

• Cover all types of printing and distribution phenomena, to be able to cope with the (future) auditing of all publications in a market (not only the actual ABC members publications!).
• Be exhaustive, to cover all aspects of the given type of activity/distribution.
• Be sufficient and precise in a statistical sense.
• Be checked against the real processes in the field.
• Be fully backed by enough documentation, records and information, to be auditable.

In order to clarify the thinking and definition process, let me discuss the example of the number of printed copies, or print run.

The phases of printing and delivering of the printed copies include the following:

• The publisher establishes the number of copies of specified issues to be printed, and sends an order to the printing house.
• The copies are printed. During the printing process, there are produced two sets of copies: the copies that will be actually delivered to the publisher, and those that are not delivered (printing setup copies, damaged copies, copies taken by the printing plant personnel, etc.).
• The copies to be delivered to the publisher are packed, and delivered. Some copies may be damaged during the stacking, packing and transportation process; therefore, we have yet another net number of clean copies.
• The copies arrive at their destination, and the delivered volume is verified. This is the stage where quantity and/or quality complaints may occur.
• The printing plan issues an invoice to the publisher. The publisher verifies if there were any complaints, records the complaints, then pays the invoice.

Which of the copies above is the print run, which should the ABC verify and report? Does the print run consist of the number of copies ordered, delivered, or paid (after or before all quality and quantity complaints are settled)?

The practice clearly shows that there are differences between the number of copies ordered, delivered, and paid. How is any discrepancy resolved here? What definition is best for your ABC’s purpose; namely, what most accurately reflects the reality of distribution?

Common sense dictates to us that the printed copies should be those that enter the distribution systems; therefore, in our case the ABC should concentrate on the net number of copies which were delivered without complaints. Therefore, the print run cannot contain damaged and/or undelivered copies.

All said, the best definition of the print run is probably the number of delivered copies that are paid by the publisher, after the settlement of the delivery.

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